Forget the fact he has been at Barcelona since he was 10 years old. Forget that he is one of the club’s vice-captains, that he has been their number one goalkeeper for nine seasons, or that he has won 10 major trophies in his time and picked up the Zamora trophy for the goalkeeper who has conceded the fewest goals throughout the season five times (four more than Iker Casillas) - Victor Valdes does not feel as loved as some of his teammates.
“People have always doubted me,” he said in his most recent Press conference.
“Only people who have played in goal themselves should give their opinion, but I have received all forms of criticism. The only thing you can do is keep on going and try to win, but I am no longer surprised by what people say, or that people still doubt me.”
Public opinion on Valdes has swayed back and forth since Frank Rijkaard made him first choice goalkeeper in 2005, but he has always been unable to rely on the unconditional support of his club.
“In my team, there is Valdes and ten other blokes,” Guardiola once said, while his successor Tito Vilanova believes that “If Barca have won four European Cups, they have won three of them because of Victor”.
Yet the highest praise of all comes from Leo Messi, who says, “Victor has won the team more games than I have.”
Considering he has the backing of such esteemed people, the news that Valdes has decided against renewing his contract with Barcelona when it expires in June 2014 came as a surprise to many, even though he had admitted he “would not rule out trying out other types of football and other countries” one day.
Barcelona are a club that few players want to leave of their own accord, and as Leo Messi, Carles Puyol and Xavi Hernandez had each extended their contracts the previous month, there was little doubt Valdes would follow suit.
So why did he not renew? The inevitable theory that he is after more money has arisen, but the fact he did not even sit down for negotiations jeopardises that particular school of thought. A more likely explanation is that, rather like his former Coach Guardiola, so many years at one of the most demanding clubs in the world has taken its toll on him, and he fancies life at a team or in a League with less pressure from the fans and the media.
Valdes has admitted to struggling to cope with pressure in the past, a problem he said was partly solved by the advice of Guardiola, who helped him enjoy his football and forget the “suffering” he felt when playing.
In that last Press conference he brought up the high level of pressure at the club, and admitted, “I've been in goal here for eleven years, which is complicated in many ways.”
The heavy criticism he receives will hardly have helped with the pressure. A miss by a striker is always forgiven quicker than a goalkeeping blunder, and Valdes has made a number of high profile mistakes which have stayed etched in people’s memories more than the times he has rescued his team, such as when he denied Thierry Henry twice in the 2006 Champions League final. These errors include being beaten at his near post by Robin Van Persie, letting Deportivo’s Alex Bergantinos’s shot slip through his hands earlier this season, his poor positioning which allowed Cristiano Ronaldo to wrap up the title for Madrid last season at the Camp Nou, or gifting Angel Di Maria a late goal in the first leg of this season’s Supercopa.
Vilanova immediately leapt to his goalkeeper’s defence after that game, and stressed,
"He should keep doing what he is doing. For years he has helped us a lot to bring the ball out from deep. If he started hitting the ball long, we would lose our combination game. One day one player can make a mistake, the next day another player."
But even though everyone makes mistakes, few players are derided as much when they make errors as Valdes. All the talk in the media after that Supercopa match was of Valdes’s slip up, and not Messi wasting the chance to make the score 4-1 just moments earlier.
Considering all that pressure, it is understandable that Valdes, who will be 32 when his contract runs out, sees June 2014 as the right time to try life out somewhere else.
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